Thursday, 31 July 2014

Hazardous Cyclists

Oh no! A London car hire firm has incurred the wrath of the voluble, self righteous London cyclist lobby by warning its customers what a bunch of arseholes they are. In a guide for car hire customers on its website, Heathrow Car Rental said that cyclists 'can be a bit of a hazard' adding that, though they pay no road tax and are not obliged to wear visible clothing, decent lighting, carry insurance or wear safety helmets, neither do they have to give coherent hand signals and apparently can run red lights with impunity they nevertheless have the same rights on the road as those who pay shedloads of tax, insure themselves and get fined or even banned for breaking the rules.

And this, according to the Evening Standard, has caused outrage amongst cyclists. One even called it cyclist-ist. It's only a matter of time before a politician gets around to condemning the language and the BBC creates an inclusive policy around cycling and all things two wheeled. As a white male who has a tendency to vote Tory, perhaps my only chance of ever working for the Beeb again would be to claim that my various disabilities were caused by being knocked off my bike by a Ukip supporting white van man.

The hire company has taken down its humorous post after complaints. And so I resurrect them here. Cyclists are a pain in the arse. They are a pain in the arse because they think that the mere act of riding a bike makes them virtuous and better than the rest of us. Unfortunately for them the latest BMW iCars emit less CO2 than they do puffing and panting their way through London's streets getting in everyone's way and running red lights. Furthermore they hold everyone up, especially those on buses. Next time you ride a London bus go to the top deck and sit at the front. Watch as the driver continually has to navigate his way around sodding cyclists, watch as they hold up your journey and cause a greater expenditure of energy and CO2. And then ask yourself if this hire car company's warning wasn't bang on the money.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Rape is Rape

Generally speaking I agree with Richard Dawkins about religion and all things religious. It is childish, it is silly, it really ought to be something that is consigned to the past like worship of the sun or believing in demons and witches. But I have to acknowledge that Dawkins can also often be every bit as much of a zealot as the religious believers he criticises. Ultimately mere belief in a supernatural fantasy does nobody any real harm. Live and let live. It's only when belief starts impinging on the rights and lives of others we should object. I think by and large this is the code that Dawkins lives by. It's just that sometimes his irritation with believers can make him overstep that mark, although when you see stories like the Scottie dogs at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony disrespecting Muslims it's hard not to sympathise with his irritation.

Quite what he was thinking when he made his latest remarks about rape though is hard to imagine. Logically perhaps it ought to be true that being raped by a stranger at knifepoint in a dark alley is worse than being forced into sex by a friend or a loved one perhaps after a few too many drinks. But when did logic ever have any bearing on feelings? Who is to say that one type of rape is worse than another? Both are violations. It is arguable that aspects of being raped by someone you know are worse since they are violations of trust as well as of the body.

And the latter type of rape is a great deal more common than we are usually comfortable to admit. I know three women who have suffered the latter type of rape by friends or boyfriends. There are probably many more who have suffered this most humiliating form of violence and could never talk about it. Men do not understand it. Many are dismissive of it. It ill behoves us to try and create a system of gradations of rape. It entirely depends on the circumstances and, most pertinently, on the personalities and sensibilities of the victims. Talking about it in the abstract is pointless and rather offensive.

But perhaps men should imagine that one night they have a few drinks and go back to the home of a friend. The drink kicks in and they fall asleep. The next morning they awake with their trousers and underwear removed or at half mast and a certain telltale soreness. How would they feel? How would they feel towards their friend? What would they do? How would they react? Now tell me that is better than if it happened in a dark alley at knifepoint.

Labour's Summer of Hypocrisy

Last week, when Wallace gave his speech about the need for more big ideas and talk about policy rather than gross caricature he was roundly and rightly criticised for his breathtaking hypocrisy. The man bemoaning our concentrating on his looks and nerdishness and of caricaturing him accordingly, the man who wanted something more than photo ops had only days before flown across the world in order to spend 20 minutes with Barack Obama - a man who is all image and zero seriousness.

But now Labour's cant and hypocrisy is already being revealed for what it is - the piteous whining of a party stuck in a cul de sac of its own making. Their summer offensive over the next few weeks ought to be offensive - to them. But needs must for a party with nothing to say.

For evidence of this we need only look at their use of the NHS as their attack. Wallace did it himself at recent PMQs, indeed there was almost nothing else he could think of to talk about. Now Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham, the man who was in charge when the mid staffordshire scandal was talking place and patients were dying of neglect, is attacking the government for its alleged privatisation of the NHS. This is the ultimate sin for Labour, although of course they neglect to mention that they did much the same thing whilst in power in order to try and inject some much needed efficiency and competition into this lumbering monolith.

But this is the intellectual bankruptcy of Labour. They do the same on education where Michael Gove has simply continued many of the policies Labour pursued. And on immigration, a subject on which Labour really ought to have the decency to keep quiet about such was the cynicism while in power, they have attacked the government for not doing enough to close the doors that they themselves let swing open with a flashing neon 'welcome' sign above them.

But let's come back to the NHS. As I have remarked in recent posts, my own experience of it has been hugely positive. I am not alone. My brother says much the same and indeed was called by one of those surveys the NHS seems to spend a fortune on and told them how impressed he had been. But this is not to say that all is rosy in the NHS garden, it's just that the problems created by politicians promising too much and creating an unwieldy monster are papered over by staff performing minor miracles every day.

Burnham complains that nobody from this government consulted the public about privatisation. Yet Labour didn't do so either. Perhaps they don't feel they have to since they consider that they own the NHS. It's their baby. What a pity they neglect it so badly and are incapable of facing the reality of its needs.

This attack by Labour sums up why the NHS often struggles and why it is destined to keep on doing so. It cannot cope with the burden politicians, desperate to use it as a political football, land it with. It will not be able to cope with new treatments, new expensive drugs, an ageing population, a population that takes it for granted and demands instant access for free all because of politicians. Our unrealistic expectations of the NHS have been fostered by the likes of Andy Burnham and his idiot leader, all paid for by money we don't have. Instead of holding an honest conversation with the British public over the future of the NHS they all claim and counter claim that it is safe in their hands. Sadly it is not safe in any of their hands.

Labour are reduced to a pathetic caricature of what the Tories will do with the NHS. It's why they deserve nothing better than being caricatured themselves.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

#Why Not Keep Killing Sean Bean

There is a tongue in cheek campaign to keep Sean Bean alive going on on Twitter at the moment. It seems that every time Bean appears on screen the producers kill him off. He's been killed by James Bond, he's been beheaded in Game of Thrones, he's even been driven off a cliff by a herd of rampaging cows.

But surely actors love a good death scene? The camera focuses on them, they get to roll their eyes, gurgle a little or a lot. They might even get a valedictory speech. Keep killing Sean Bean. I'm sure he loves every minute.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Why Does Nobody Take Wallace Seriously?

At recent PMQs, I have noted that Wallace, that poor little chap with the big hair and big nose we all keep picking on, seemed to have run out of ideas for questions to ask the prime minister. He was flailing around, even asking the same questions about the NHS two weeks in a row. He could have asked about the economy of course but Labour don't want to talk about that at the moment since it all seems to be going inconveniently well and would just draw attention to how wrong they have been and how they have no alternative policies.

But now he has found a solution. Instead of getting him and his advisers to think of six question he's going to throw it open to the British public. Perhaps they can have a phone installed next to the dispatch box so he can phone a friend when he runs out of ideas, or when Dave says something nasty about Labour raising taxes.

And this would all be trivial and meaningless but for the fact that last week, just after a 6000 mile round trip to get his picture taken with Barack Obama, Wallace was telling us that politics is too trivial and meaningless and that we shouldn't be so mean to him because he is a great intellectual full of ideas for how to make the world a better place if only we would listen to him, stop pointing and laughing and stop comparing him to a children's TV character who likes cheese and whose dog is savvier than he is. Immediately after telling us this he then came up with this bright idea. It seems that, so bereft is he of good policy ideas, he now needs to throw it out to the public. Perhaps he could mount a Blue Peter appeal.

It may seem terribly unfair that we don't take the leader of Her Maj's loyal opposition terribly seriously, but it really is not because of the way he looks or talks. It's because he is vacuous and talks like the wonk he is.

Now a sensible, non-wonkish man might have leavened a speech complaining about the triviality of modern politics with some examples of the great ideas and policies he thinks are being drowned out. But he didn't. There were none. Why, he might have said, are you concentrating on my inability to eat a bacon sandwich, when I have this to say about the economy for instance. But he didn't. There were no ideas. Thus we are forced to come to the conclusion that this was his usual empty rhetoric. Worse, it was a whinge. It was him stamping his foot and screaming 'stop being mean to me, can't you see I'm an intellectual colossus.'

That bacon sandwich debacle was an unforced error. It wasn't as if the press slyly tempted him into it. His highly paid spin machinery thought it was a good idea as part of his local and European elections campaign. During that campaign, in addition to failing to eat sandwiches, he failed to learn the name of the leader of the local Labour Party for a radio interview, or even which party was in power in that area. The intellectual colossus full of ideas was clueless about actual issues, as well as getting his pearly white, expensively polished gnashers around a sarnie. Oh and then there was The Sun imbroglio in which he posed with a newspaper he and his party despises (although they didn't so much when it backed Labour) only to sort of half regret it in mealy mouthed terms within hours. Was that the world being mean to him or is he just a bit of a clueless prat?

You will search in vain for the great thinking of this alleged intellectual colossus. What you will see instead is a whole host of gimmickry dressed up as policy. They have a common theme to be fair, it's a theme of attacking business, punishing the successful, siding with vested interests especially if they are members of trade unions, refusing to reform any public services and indeed voting against such reform, thus the only solution is to spend more money and suck ever more out of the economy in the form of higher taxes. Oh and then they claim to be on the side of people who are struggling to make ends meet. All of this is so muddled and incoherent it could only really come from the mind of a political dweeb who thinks he is a an intellectual but has never done a proper job in his life.

The other characteristic of this brilliant brains trust that wishes we would all be less trivial and more serious is that,  if government reforms prove popular, Wallace pays lip service to it and tells us how tough he will be. After taking the opposing path on welfare reform and on austerity, they have looked at the opinion polls and performed a high speed U turn worthy of Top Gear's The Stig. This is politics at its most meretricious and trivial. This isn't policy, it's Labour attempting sloganeering again in the hope that the British people will have forgotten about the last time they tried it and it amounted to nothing. Do they think we have forgotten about the spin and lies and evasions?

And that sums up his latest brilliant idea. Get the prime minister to answer questions from the public? Why has nobody thought of that before? Well, of course they have. Margaret Thatcher was doing it a generation ago when Wallace was still at school and hero worshipping his Marxist father. The BBC's Question Time has been around for a similar amount of time. We live in the age of the internet, of Twitter, of online petitions. Yet that, in a week when he bemoaned the lack of interest in seriousness and policies was the best Wallace could come up with.

But this is a problem that is not unique to Wallace. The same was true of that other leader of his party who thought he was cleverer than everyone else and should be prime minister as a consequence. Gordon Brown spent ten years resenting the fact he had not become leader of his party and then PM. He famously engaged in internecine warfare to achieve it. Then, when he got his longed for job, he had no policies, no ideas. It very much looks as though Wallace wants to repeat that history. He wants to be prime minister but he doesn't really know why. He wants a fairer world, a more just world, it's just that he has absolutely no idea how to achieve it. As so often he has identified a problem but has no viable solution to it. Worse he is kidding himself that we are all being terribly unfair to him by concentrating on his looks and voice rather than ideas.

The solution is obvious: stun us with your ideas. It will be four years this autumn since Wallace got his job. He has had four years to convince us he is more than just a nerdy bloke who looks a bit odd and reminds us of something made of plasticine. It was entirely in his power to change our perception of him. Many of his predecessors have done so. He has singularly failed and so ended up making a speech about how unfair it all is. And he wonders why nobody takes him seriously.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Why Are We Cynical About Wallace's Leadership?

Parliament went into recess this week and so there was no prime minister's questions. An ideal opportunity, thought Labour, to make their leader look statesmanlike by having his picture taken with Barack Obama. Of course at the same time, here at home, there was the opportunity to actually be statesmanlike and talk about foreign policy in the House of Commons which was talking about Russia, Ukraine and the murder of 300 people on a plane. Surely Wallace would cancel what amounted to a photo op to be in the cockpit of our democracy and talk about the issue of the week? Clearly not. He preferred to go and pose with the cool dude prez.

Yet today, back at home, Wallace has given a speech about political leadership and cynicism. I kid you not. The public, he said, are cynical and believe that nobody can make a difference. Whatever brought us to that conclusion? Who would have thought such a thing in a world in which the man who aspires to be our next prime minister prefers to fly 3000 miles for a 20 minute meeting and to have his picture taken in the White House. He probably even hummed the theme tune to the West Wing while he was there.

Political cynicism? This is the man who engaged not so long ago in a war of words with Rupert Murdoch but then posed with a copy of The Sun. He then apologised. Cynicism?

This is a man who refuses to talk about a European referendum, who blames the government for the fact that we have only just grown our economy back to the size it was before Labour's bust, who told us it would all get worse if the government cut and now tells us we would all somehow be better off if only Labour were in power and free once again to tax and spend and punish anyone who has a nice house, earns a decent wages and wants to send their kids to a school that is no approved of by a local authority and bolshie teachers.

This is a man who leads a party that erupted in fury last week at the suggestion by David Cameron that they want to put up taxes. Yet they do want to put up taxes. They are on record as wanting to put up National Insurance, create a new Mansion Tax that will hit London and the south east for the crime of being too successful and prosperous and which was doing much the same only four years ago and now seems to think we will have forgotten about their boom and bust to end all busts. Yet this is a man, Labour tell us, who is in touch with the reality so many people find themselves in. He called the cost of living crisis, they say proudly, neglecting to mention that it was policies to which he was subscribed and to which he still subscribes that created the the depression from which we have only just emerged and which he wanted us to borrow our way out of.

Still, never mind, Wallace got his picture with the prez. He told us he did it because he wants to be prime minister next year and he needs to talk to his friend Barack in readiness for that. A cynic might suggest it would be easier to just send an e-mail, or pick up the phone. Isn't cynicism awful?

This Heatwave Proves Global Warming is Nothing to Worry About

If only our weather was as predictable and as easily understood as those who claim to know what it is up to and, more importantly, why. We are enjoying a decent summer. It is the first one in a while in that we are getting a sustained period of warm, sometimes hot, sunny days with little rain other than occasional torrential thunderstorms. This is actually quite normal for summer. It is actually quite reassuring.

But for some it is proof of something. It is proof of global warming. Suddenly it is global warming again, not climate change, or global weirding. It is global warming. You can almost feel their relief and almost orgasmic pleasure in being able to say that. It's warm, it must be because of global warming. Thank god!

Except it's not. It's just weather. Our hemisphere is tilted towards the sun at this time of year and so, during the months of June, July and August - what we call summer - the weather is warmer, high pressure is more likely and prominent. So long as the jet stream behaves itself we should get periods of warm or even hot sunny weather. This is actually the opposite of proof of global warming or whatever you want to call it. It is actually proof that our weather is simply normal. But then this was always the case.

But then this was always the case. Climate change global warming is a theory predicated on the assumption that something unusual is going on. But it isn't, or at least not enough to concern us. Yes there is more CO2 in the air and, all things being equal, this might make temperatures increase at least in theory. But they haven't, not in any significant way, although getting reliable data about this is nothing like as easy as you might think.

And this is what the warming fanatics don't tell you. We don't know if temperatures are increasing in any significant way. The data is rubbish. Temperature varies hugely. It varies during the day as the Earth spins, it varies as the seasons change, it varies as a cloud goes past, it varies according to the weather, the wind, the ocean currents. And it varies from year to year, decade to decade. We are seeing that right now. This lovely summer is proof of how obtuse those who claim this proves something really are. How can global warming climate change be causing cold weather, hot weather, wet weather, windy weather or whatever else they claim in their desperation? You don't have to be a scientist to see through how self serving and plain absurd their argument is. If one year the weather is hot, the next wet, then that only proves that our weather varies a lot because it is part of a chaotic system. But then we knew that didn't we?

All of this is noise we can only see through in retrospect, usually with the hindsight of decades. Try as they might the warming fanatics can point to no evidence whatsoever that the autumn and winter floods can be attributed to climate change global warming. And so any attempt to draw conclusions from a summer that is like a normal summer are doomed to failure and should be laughed at. Just get out there and enjoy it, soak up the rays. Next year it might be raining again. No doubt that will be because of global warming climate change too.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Space: The Enigmatic Frontier

Apparently Voyager, the venerable spacecraft launched by NASA in the 1970s, may not have left the solar system after all. Voyager and its sister craft are the most distant man-made objects. They are heading out of the solar system as fast as a bullet leaves a gun. But, like all great explorers, they are encountering the unknown and we are learning as they go. Nobody really knows at what point the Sun's heliosphere runs out and they enter interstellar space. Scientists working on the project are now not so sure that Voyager has passed out of the solar system and is in interstellar space. They are conducting more tests. Unfortunately there is no signpost saying 'you are now leaving the solar system, drive carefully.' God messed up there.

This is the sort of thing you will be able to read in my novel Light and Truth. It concerns the battle between science and religion and one that is resolved in a unique way. It will be available this autumn.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

This Disproportionate Criticism of Israel

Let us imagine for a moment what would have happened had 9/11 never happened. Or, more pertinently, let us imagine what would have happened had someone in the security services joined all the dots and foiled the attack before the terrorists got on the planes. Or maybe a John McClain figure could have foiled it all with some spectacular and often bloody stunt. America would still have been shocked, still appalled at what might have been, but the shock would have been less visceral, the world would not have changed in quite the same way as it did that sunny September day when we all remember where we were and what we were doing.

When it happened, few people had heard of Bin Laden and his ragtag army of self righteous, theologically confused zealots bent on something incoherent that they cannot quite put into words. But the world was awakened to their existence. A response was called for. In the shock of the aftermath of 9/11 that response was not always well focused, but it was also inevitable. Had 9/11 been foiled but its intent revealed we might have responded better. Few would have imagined for instance that the Twin Towers would have collapsed in the way they did. In the absence of that cataclysm we would have responded differently, but we would have responded, for there were people trying to kill us and kill our friends.

In Israel, every day, Hamas is firing up to a hundred missiles designed to kill and maim. The fact that this does not happen is because Israel is able to foil most of these missile attacks. The reason it is able to do so is that it has had years of these attacks and so sought to protect its people. Yet still the missiles keep coming, presumably on the basis that, if they keep firing them, some will get through. The intention is of a 9/11 every day. Yet, when Israel responds, tries to stop this barrage having tried and failed the diplomatic route thanks to Hamas intransigence, it is condemned by lefties everywhere as the aggressor, as being disproportionate. Yet Israel tries, as we try, to minimise civilian casualties. It gives warnings. Hamas nevertheless encourages and cajoles civilians to stay put, to act as human shields for its barrage.

And this is not to defend all of the actions of Israel. They have often fanned the flames of this enduring and never ending conflict. Their belligerence, though often understandable in a region in which so many of their neighbours are mortal enemies, only makes matters worse. More importantly it is impolitic. It gives Hamas their excuse and it allows Israel's western critics to indulge in their hypocritical hand wringing.

But, if you follow the logic of Israel's critics, then they should simply switch off their defence systems and allow their civilians to die. Thus their response in Gaza would become 'proportionate'. Would that make everyone happy? And why doesn't anyone ever ask what the motivation is for Hamas to keep firing its rockets. It knows that most will be intercepted. It knows the likely consequences. It knows that firing rockets is never going to achieve anything other than occasional Israeli deaths and an Israeli response. Knowing all of this we can only assume that those rockets are being fired purely out of bile and hatred and in an attempt to win a propaganda war. Are the deaths of Palestinian civilians a price worth paying?

Israel has lately been arguing that we would do exactly the same if London were daily being assailed with bombs and rockets. They are of course quite right. We don't even have to imagine this, we just have to look in the history books. We invaded Afghanistan long before London was attacked. When the Nazis were sending over their V2s we responded with mass bombing raids against German cities like Dresden. We were a minor partner in the development of the atomic bomb used against the Japanese in response to their aggression. This is what countries in fear of their lives and very existence do. The Israeli response, when compared to that of the western allies in recent wars, has been a great deal more proportionate and considered. World War II is generally regarded as a just and necessary war, but it inevitably led to the deaths of civilians and other innocents. This is unavoidable in war and that is even without one of the participants using civilians as shields. You cannot sanitise war.

Hamas does not even enjoy support across the Arab world in much the same way that Al Qaeda is a fringe movement amongst Muslims. Yet both are dangerous precisely because they are cynical and entirely relaxed about the carnage they cause, even amongst their own people. Those who criticise Israel for trying to combat Hamas's aggression are just playing into that organisation's cynicism and nihilism. Its leaders must laugh at our western decadence. But at the same time they must thank allah that we have so many useful idiots prepared to defend the indefensible and ensure that the rockets keep coming.

Remembering Amy

Today is the anniversary of her death and so it seems a good time to remind ourselves what we have been missing these last 3 years. It's so so sad when we are denied the talents of the likes of Amy Winehouse and, within a few months, of Whitney Houston too. Rest in peace, you will never be forgotten because you made music like this.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Russia Exposes the Uselessness of the EU

The chances are that today we will see a further example of the unrelenting uselessness of the EU. When it comes to appointing a new President of the Commission they of course all believe, by 26 to 2, in the drive towards ever closer union. When it comes to doing something about a man who has invaded a sovereign country, appropriated territory and is even now encouraging so called rebels to continue his modern day anschluss? Suddenly its every man or woman for themselves. The Germans don't want to endanger their energy supplies or sales of big Mercedes, the French are about to sell the Russians a warship and a few thousand vats of wine. Britain is prepared to take a hit in the City of London and maybe to sacrifice Chelsea FC, but it will be pointless if we act alone. Clearly European solidarity is theoretical and conditional, a bit like European democracy.

And of course this is why Putin keeps calculating that he can get away with his gangsterism. It's because he's right.

We're always told that the EU was a response to the 2nd World War, hell they have even given it the Nobel Peace Prize for crying out loud. The EU is supposed to be our guarantor of peace. So you might imagine that, when confronted by a modern day Hitler out to bully and oppress and even murder to get his way, this peacemaker would react as one and confront him. Sadly the EU has repeatedly shown itself incapable of that, and our European partners, when push comes to shove, prefer to keep trading with the bully.

The EU, acting in concert with the U.S, has the power to bring Russia to its knees, and remarkably quickly. Russia is a fast declining power. Its current belligerence is not a demonstration of power and strength, it is a sign of it weakness and intense frustration at that weakness. The very fact it has to sub-contract the building of its warships to France tells us a great deal. But Putin can see the weakness and lack of resolve in us and plays on it ruthlessly. If only our leaders had the courage to take him on they could forge a real path to peace, human rights and even democracy. How sad that they are not prepared to pay a short term price to win something truly worthwhile.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Make Putin A Pariah

Why is anyone at all surprised by the behaviour of Vlad the Botoxed, Russia and the rebels (otherwise known as terrorists) who have murdered a plane full of tourists and are now being protected? Russia is a country which once flirted with democracy but has been re-routed by Putin and his bunch of gangster cronies to a very recognisable form of autocracy. This is a country that jails or murders opponents, bullies its way to power, has played fast and loose with the constitution to keep Vlad in power, has murdered journalists and has even murdered opponents who have sought refuge here in the west. They have twice invaded near neighbours using the Hitler defence of Russian speaking residents to justify this. They are convinced that they have the right to dictate to near neighbours as part of their sphere of influence, regardless of whether the residents of those countries wish to be so influenced. Russia still spies on us, engages in cyber crime and its planes regularly skirt the edge of our airspace and have to be intercepted by the RAF. Yet until recently Vlad was allowed to attend the G8 and even host it being treated at worst like a kind of eccentric uncle rather than a proto Brezhnev.

Putin is rightly being blamed, at least partially, for the downing of MH17. He is an accessory to the murder of 298 passengers and crew. Worse he is now furiously attempting a cover-up, moving bodies, corrupting evidence, removing the flight recorders, effectively holding the dead for ransom. Yet he is also engaging in his usual lies and bluster, playing to the international gallery, lying and evading and obfuscating. If you were ever in any doubt of the potential depravity of this regime, here he is entirely fulfilling our expectations.

This blog has been warning for years of the dangers of Russia. It has been doing the same about China. Ever since Barack Obama pressed his reset button and indulged the lefty fantasy that we only have to be nice to our enemies for peace to reign in the world this moment has been inevitable. From Syria to Ukraine with plenty of double dealing in between, Putin has seen that reset as a sign of weakness. It is modern day appeasement and he has seized the opportunity.

Remember just a few weeks back when Prince Charles compared Putin to Hitler? Remember the outrage that came from the Kremlin? Perhaps their anger was more to do with the fact that we might at last have woken up to reality. Putin is playing the despot's playbook, the same one that advises them to keep up a pretence of legitimacy, the same one that advises lies and bluster.

And yet, even now, our leaders dither as they try to work out what to do about Putin and Russia without creating too much bother. The EU, with its farcical pretence at a common policy, cannot or actually will not exert real pressure on Putin because that might lead to Russians buying fewer luxury cars or other goods with their usually ill gotten gains. This is actually worse than appeasement - that looks noble and well judged by comparison. At least the appeasers weren't sucking up to the Nazis because they wanted to sell them Mercedes, Bentleys and gaudy flats in Knightsbridge.

There is no doubt now that the so called rebels and Putin are responsible for this outrage. All of the circumstantial evidence points in their direction and is probably all the evidence we will get now since they have done their best to cover their tracks. What more does the so called international community need to see before it actually acts like a community and treats Putin's Russia as the rogue state it is. If it means a new cold war then so be it. We have had warning after warning of what this regime is capable of. Unless we say enough this could just be the beginning. History teaches us that doesn't it?

Friday, 18 July 2014

The Right to Die

Today the House of Lords will debate the Right to Die bill. It is a contentious subject and one which has been attracting much comment in recent days. Many people, including a former Archbishop of Canterbury, have come around to the opinion that a right to die is necessary and would be a humane and civilised measure for modern Britain. The debate has become polarised between religious believers and non religious believers, with just a few of the former camp now starting to shift. Interestingly however few of those who argue against the right to die do so on religious grounds. It's as if they are afraid of the ridicule this would attract. Simply arguing that something goes against Christian teachings and the gospels simply doesn't wash anymore. We saw that with the same sex marriage bill. Thus they have to invent reasons other than a simple moral one to justify their stance.

Unfortunately the reasons they have come up with don't stand up to any more analysis than simply arguing that God forbids it. The right to die, we are told, will somehow put pressure on people to take this option for fear of being a burden to their families, for fear of eating into the inheritance they had hoped to leave for their children. It's no wonder they don't want to talk about god and morality in the same sentence. How little faith they must have in humanity that they think people would so readily wish their loved ones dead just to save them a few grand on care home fees.

The right to die, which is to say the right to have one's life ended with drugs, is not being proposed for people who have simply had enough and want to join a beloved partner in paradise. It is something being proposed for people who are in pain or have no quality of life through illness or incapacity. If your life is a constant ordeal of pain, drugs, painkillers, bedsores, intravenous drips, nappies and catheters inserted in intimate areas then you might well conclude entirely rationally that life is not worth living. Who are we to deny anyone that choice based on some outdated notion of the sanctity of life? Modern medicine can perform miracles and has enhanced and prolonged our lives to a degree our ancestors would find incredible. Only 100 years ago a king was in dire peril if he had appendicitis. But surely we also have a responsibility to ensure that modern medicine does not create misery where in the past no confusion would have arisen?

It should be noted that a right to die exists for everyone anyway. I'm not talking about suicide per se. We could all do that by simply taking an overdose of readily available non prescription drugs. If anyone has a condition which, without treatment, would end their life they have a right to refuse that treatment - effectively to choose death. Similarly those in hospital can give instructions that, if they do die no measures should be taken to restart their heart or otherwise to try and save them. And indeed for those with the most serious incapacities death can come about by withdrawing food and water. We are too squeamish to give drugs to make this a quick and easy process, and so we prefer to salve our consciences by withdrawing treatment keeping us alive. It's a distinction that makes no sense and future generations may well regard as inhumane or even cruel.

The proposed new law would allow people with serious illnesses and no quality of life to make an informed choice and have someone help them bring it to an end. Nobody is arguing that this should be done on a whim. Those making such a choice will no doubt think long and hard about it and go back and forth. They should be encouraged to do so. But they almost certainly will anyway. It is part of the human condition to cling tenaciously to life, to do everything we can to live as long as we can. But there comes a point when life is an ordeal. We are not talking about depression or ennui here. We are talking about every breath, every waking minute being tortuous. Why would anyone wish to force sufferers of this kind of non-life to continue because our society cannot face taking the humane route based on some theory of a macabre pandora's box being opened?

This is not a legal promotion of death as some are arguing, it is a common sense response to a thankfully rare but not uncommon situation we have created thanks to better technology and science. Our lives are our own and they are ours to surrender. Common humanity means we should make our best endeavours to ensure that the choice, if made, is made for good and rational reasons. But we have to accept that sometimes choosing death is rational and reasonable. It is incumbent on any decent society to facilitate that and to ensure it is offered without being abused. The abuse of a right to die is entirely theoretical. The need for it is clear and there for all to see.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Beware - Warm Weather

Earlier today I wrote of Labour's tax plans and of their constant delusion that ever higher spending will inevitably and inexorably lead to a better world. It never occurs to them that ever more public officials watching over us, advising us, nagging us, poking us to do what a committee has decided is the right thing to do might be a bad thing. It just does not compute.

Fortunately this week, this very day, we have proof. The state employs 'experts' whose job it is to tell us what to do in hot weather. Apparently we should drink plenty, stay out of the midday sun (possibly with musical accompaniment while we laugh at mad dogs) wear suncream and possibly consider short sleeve shirts, notwithstanding the fact that a certain kind of person regards such attire on men as naff. No, I don't understand why either.

There is even a DEFCON style system of alerts to warn us all of the peril. Apparently this week's weather is a Level 2 event. Does that make you feel better? What does one do with this information? Does one go to a clothing store and buy a Level 2 hat? Are chemists stocking Level 2 suncream?

Apparently the Health Service is being warned of a spurt in cases at A&Es across the land. Oh, and officials are very worried about Muslims. Muslims are obliged, no they really are, to fast at this time of year. Now in a sane world these 'experts' on warm weather would put out an advisory telling Muslims not to be so fucking stupid and have a drink and something to eat. It's only a superstition. This is the 21st century. But we all know that won't happen. I wonder if rehydration by intravenous drip is haram during daylight hours too. And anyway, has it occurred to the 'experts' that, since most of Britain's Muslims come from hot countries that are properly hot rather than merely a little too warm for a couple of days every other year, that they may be able to cope with 24 hours of British hotness? And perhaps, and I am just speculating here, the average Muslim does not take the obligation to fast entirely seriously, in much the same way that they don't worry too much about Sharia bans on borrowing and lending. Or do they all live only in rented accommodation?

The newspapers of course lap all of this up like a dog near a water bowl. There will be pictures of girls in bikinis, people relaxing in parks, children playing in watery attractions, celebs looking cool, dogs chasing hoses, ice cream vendors putting up their prices not to mention dehydrated Muslims falling like flies. All of them will be ignoring advice not to go out between 11 and 3 and all will somehow miraculously survive.

Oh and we will also get the perennial favourite telling us which exotic parts of the world Britain is hotter than. Barbados is one apparently (cue excuse for a picture of Rihanna in a bikini - she's from Barbados you know). Not that the Bajun people will be aware of this of course. They are probably all indoors, in a cool room, wearing hats and sun cream and wishing they lived somewhere cool and wet where the weather is nothing like so dangerous and there are officials on hand to offer constant advice about what to do whenever the weather changes. Oh to live in such a land. Or of course you could just go out and enjoy it and practise your water skiing.

Labour and Tax

If you are an England fan and are still feeling bewildered, betrayed and generally bemused by England's failure in Brazil whilst the likes of Algeria, Iran and Costa Rica managed to put on a decent show in the best World Cup this century, then I have a consoling thought for you. It could be worse. You could be a Labour MP.

Wallace, the Labour leader, has been more shy in front of goal than any England striker you could care to name all the way back to Geoff Hurst. Presented with open goal after open goal each week at PMQs he manages each time to hit the corner flag. He must feel like any opposing forward bearing down on a goal being kept by Germany's Manuel Neuer. There you are, heading for the penalty area with dreams of glory in your head having beaten the offside trap and outpacing all of the defenders when a great 6 and a half foot colossus suddenly appears out of nowhere and hammers the ball into the stands. David Cameron is Manuel Neuer. He keeps being landed in trouble and by rights should get in to more trouble charging out of his penalty area like that. Yet he pulls it off every time.

And so it proved at this week's PMQs just yesterday. Dave had reshuffled his Cabinet and moved Michael Gove because he had upset people and this was seen as distracting so close to an election. It was not a terrible political difficulty, but one that could have been exploited by a more adroit political operator. Step forward Wallace. A nice joke might have done the trick, a bit of barbed wit to make Dave and Michael look foolish. Yet, like Bruce Forsyth on Strictly or more or less any England football player in the six yard area, his timing was off. He missed the target.

But what made it worse this week was that Dave, the ball safely in his hands, then launched a counter attack. He accused Labour of wanting to put up taxes. Wallace was nonplussed. Him? Put up taxes? That wasn't part of the script. Yet his deputy had said it on a radio programme just the previous day and those cunning and untrustworthy Tories had sat on it and assailed him with it at PMQs.

Labour have been furious about this. It's just not true they said. And to be fair they have a point because Hattie did not say what Dave was accusing her of. I mean, who would have thought it, politicians using each others words in a not wholly honest way. You could knock me over with a feather.

The problem of course for Labour is that they do want to put up taxes. They just would rather you didn't point this out during PMQs when Wallace is banging on about a cost of living crisis. But they have already spoken of their intention of putting up national insurance to pay for extra NHS spending. They want to create a whole new tax which they will dishonestly call a mansion tax but which will in reality be a tax on London and the south east. Tax and spend is what socialists do and they usually make no apologies for it. They don't admit it either of course. They just like to say as little as possible about it before doing as they please with our money once safely elected. This is why they are so furious at Dave's alleged dishonesty. Hattie didn't say what he said she said. But she might as well have done.

Labour will put up our taxes. It's what they do. They consider it their right. They never ever learn. They haven't learnt from their own disastrous last term in government when they spent like drunken sailors until the money ran out and the economy went bust. They haven;t learnt that money is not the answer since there has been no noticeable difference in the provision of public services even after the Tory cuts they said were too far and too fast. They haven't learnt from events in France where President Hollande ramped up taxes only to see the economy tank.

Labour will put up taxes. We know they will. They will raid our pensions again, they will raid our savings, they will push up taxes on the middle classes once again and then come back for a second bite if they happen to own a home considered too expensive and thus designated a mansion, even if it is a two bedroom flat.

Labour are upset about being accused of wanting to put up taxes because that was one of many things they would rather not talk about, a bit like a referendum on Europe. But we all know they will put up taxes. It's all they know and right now they are retreating into a never never land of socialist utopia, and socialist denial where all is paid for by ever rising taxes which never ever affect growth or prosperity, in which wages can rise inexorably, unions can demand a return to their glory days, change must be resisted and life will improve if only they can throw money at it. The party banging on about a cost of living crisis simply cannot get their heads around the fact that higher taxes makes life even more of a struggle for the low paid, the middle classes and businesses struggling to get by. Labour prefer not to think about that. That's why they don't want to talk about it either.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

PMQs 16th July 2014 - The Gove Lite Edition

A few months ago, during PMQs, Dave found himself surrounded by middle class, rich white men. This was of great import to the nation. Well, actually the nation shrugged and went meh, but it was of great import to the sort of people who tell us what is and isn't important to us, the sort of people who read the runes of the political world, the professional Westminsterologists. It was scandalous that there were no women on the front bench, these wise sages said, ignoring the fact that it was an accident and that this had happened because, rather than be there as political tokens, the female Cabinet ministers were away governing.

This was all said to be part of Dave's women problem. And so yesterday, as part of his reshuffle, we saw the rise of the women. Several were promoted and white men were shifted aside. Labour muttered various incoherent critiques about the rise of these women still not being enough compared to their own side, but then managed to mix this message by alleging that it is also a lurch to the right.

Not that this was a complete triumph for Dave either. He sacked a few people, apparently for the sin of having been disagreeable, too independent minded whilst also being white and male. He did import the first hairy chin back into the Cabinet in a century, and no this did not mean the return of Anne Widdecombe.

Unfortunately for this female focused reshuffle, it was overshadowed by the decline and fall of two men, William Hague who is heading off into the political sunset to spend more time writing books and may well pop up on television doing something or other. Then there was the fall, or at least the sideways move of Michael Gove. Gove has been a remarkably successful minister even if he isn't everyone's cup of tea. Sure he has upset a few vested interests, but then Tories once had a leader who became much admired for doing that sort of thing. Dave is not too keen on it though and so now Gove is to be Chief Whip and minister for the Today programme. Or is he going to be a strategist sitting in Downing Street and coordinating things? It's not really clear. What is clear is that Gove, being combative, was seen as too much of a distraction heading into the election. He was cleared out of the way. Schools are now being looked after by a woman and a mother, Nicky Morgan. This is notable apparently, and not at all patronising as is the fact that various women have been included in the Cabinet even though they are not really. One is Esther McVey, who is blessed with good looks and an earthy accent. Not that Dave noticed this you understand. That would be sexist. And northist.

Parliament heads off for its summer recess next Tuesday, and so this was the last PMQs before we all reconvene on September 3rd, just prior to the party conferences. Last year Wallace disappeared for the summer and re-emerged with various wizard wheezes about the so called cost of living crisis. Will he do so again this year? It's to be hoped so because lately he has been struggling to make an impact and his ideas and what are laughingly called policies have been ignored or even ridiculed. His poll rating is so dire it deserves an Ed Balls hand gesture. He's even been struggling to come up with questions at PMQs, last week resorting to a second attempt to nail the PM on NHS stats. He failed. Quite an achievement that. The good news however is that, after much begging and cajoling and employing a former White House adviser, Wallace will be allowed into the presence of Barack Obama next week. Quite how good an idea it is to allow the geeky, weird one to stand alongside Obama is moot. He seems to think it will make him look less weird.

So what would be the subject matter today? Would he dare to talk about the economy with the latest unemployment figures defying him once again - damn those working classes, what the hell are they doing working? The only upside for Wallace is that at least their wages are still failing to keep up. Every silver lining must have a cloud if the Labour strategy is to work.

This week Wallace wanted to talk about the reshuffle, congratulating Dave on having done the right thing and shifted Michael Gove. The PM responded with a short paean to the departing Chief Whip, Sir George Young, a 40 year Commons veteran who will be departing next year. He said he needed a giant to fill those shoes, notwithstanding the fact that Sir George had been a last minute substitute for Andrew Mitchell when he had his contretemps with plod outside Downing Street.

Wallace wasn't having that, although it didn't help matters that at this point he employed his 'yah boo sucks' voice he probably used to deploy when having his head shoved down the lavatory by the school bully. Cameron had wanted Gove to stay for years, said Wallace, nearly but not quite adding 'nyahh nyahh nyahh.' What had changed? Dave hit back with a list of Gove's achievements and noting that Wallace still didn't want to talk about the economy.

And so Wallace talked about the economy. Well, sort of. He wanted to talk about the fact that the economy is not perfect. This is a revelation to him apparently and an entirely new phenomenon. He alleged that there are a great many people who are working and yet still in poverty. Anyone would have thought that Labour would have invented a working tax credit to address that problem.

But this gave Dave the opportunity to reel off a list of impressive figures on unemployment. It was, he conceded, disappointing that wages were not keeping up, but blamed that on the recession. That was Labour's fault.

Wallace then pointed out that many young people were living with their parents. The nation recoiled in shock. Their living standards had been hit especially badly he claimed. Dave pounced. He had noticed that Hattie Harperson, she who should have been deputy prime minister had not Gordon been a sexist pig, had proclaimed that middle class people, the squeezed middle that Wallace had once spoken up for, would be squeezed further with yet more taxes. Cost of living crisis?

This wounded Wallace. We could tell because he called it desperate. He wanted to talk about the cost of living and Dave didn't, or at least not on his terms. In Wallace world this proved something. Amusingly we then got one of those Labour communication problems. Wallace denied Hattie had said any such thing and Hattie refused to resile from yesterday's words.  It was to this background that Wallace then inserted his soundbite of the week, the one meant to send him off in glory for the summer. 'We have a cost of living standards we cannot deny and a prime minister we can't believe,' he said and sat down. The Commons didn't quite do a double take and say 'eh?' but it might as well have done.

And so Dave flushed his head down the bog. 'In our party the leader reshuffles the cabinet,' he said, 'in Labour the shadow cabinet wants to reshuffle the leader.' Wallace tried to look contemptuous. Unfortunately for him so did his party, and they weren't looking at the prime minister.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

The Relaunch Reshuffle

ITN just reported that Michael Gove was sacked as Education Secretary. This is an odd way to describe things. Was Phillip Hammond sacked as Defence Secretary? Was William Hague sacked as Foreign Secretary? No, they were reshuffled. That is what happens in reshuffles. People move.

For the life of me I don't understand why Gove attracts this kind of opprobrium. Yes, he is a man who believes earnestly in something and has pursued it zealously. But isn't it ironic that lefties, for whom such an approach to life and politics is their raison d'ĂȘtre, should get so angry about someone with a similar approach? Or is one only allowed to be an ideologue if one is a lefty ideologue?

I for one am disappointed that Gove has been reshuffled out of Education. There is the worry that without his bruising approach the education establishment will reassert control and the dilution of his reforms will begin. Yes I hear the argument about him having done all of the heavy lifting and the stories of him now being bored and at a loose end as a consequence, but as the strikes of last week showed, the war is not won. It's not clear it can ever be won entirely. That is why a Gove like figure is required. Nicky Morgan may be a more emollient figure, but at this stage it's not clear that that is what is required in education.

One of the more impressive aspects of this government has been the determination to reshuffle as little as possible and leave ministers in office free to run their departments, learn them and master them. Many have done so impressively. Gove was one. Now moved. Owen Patterson was another. Now moved. There are Lib Dems in office that cannot be moved even though they are doing such lousy jobs. Happily the rumours about Eric Pickles turned out not to be true. William Hague has been an extremely unimpressive Foreign Secretary. It is right that he went. George Osborne had to remain Chancellor.

But of course this is a reshuffle which is all about the fact that there really isn't much governing left to do between now and next May. Thus the good media performers are being lined up for the next war. The general election. Gove is a good media performer. He also has the right kind of accent. So does Esther McVey, who also happens to be wonderfully telegenic and, lets face it, gorgeous. If politics is showbiz for ugly people she is the definite exception and Gove the rule.

Cameron is sensitive to the charge that he is surrounded by rich old Etonians he went to university with. And so he is packing his front bench with people who look and sound different and relieving them of too much ministerial responsibility to facilitate this.  Promoting women is for similar reasons. It's cynical but it might just work, although only if you buy into the notion that people pay attention to this kind of thing and know and care about the gender balance of party front benches. Tomorrow's PMQs will see them across the front bench, dough nutting him for the benefit of the cameras. It's not unlike Labour's attempts to make Wallace look like an ordinary guy. Isn't modern politics inspiring?

Goodbye Ken

I was not one of those Tories dancing a jig at the news that Ken Clarke's long and usually distinguished ministerial career seems finally to be at an end. Ken was that rarity, a popular politician - a man who appealed across the political spectrum and was able to do normal. How so many of those who will be celebrating his demise could do with that quality.

There has been some talk of late that Ken was not a true Tory. Nonsense. This was based on his very trenchant Europhilia and liberalism on certain issues to do with the criminal law. But you have to admire his determination to stick to his guns on Europe. He was and remains wrong. He was spectacularly wrong about the Euro, for instance, but that doesn't make a him a bad Tory. It was the Tories after all who took us into Europe. It was the blessed Margaret who signed up to so much that now offends staunch Euro sceptics. That should not detract from Ken Clarke's astonishing achievements and long service. In an age in which William Hague seems exhausted by the grind of politics and high office, Ken is going reluctantly and will stand again as an MP at the general election. He is 74 and has been an MP now for nearly 45 years.

We should not forget, as the curtain falls on his career, that it has had some impressive moments. He was an excellent Chancellor of the Exchequer, one of the best this country has seen over the last 50 years. It was partly his legacy that left the public finances in such good order before Labour came to power in 1997 and squandered his good work. Before that, under Margaret Thatcher, he was a Health Secretary who took on some of the vested interests. It's thanks to Ken that the ambulance service was modernised and made more efficient, albeit not without a fight. If only he could have done more to the rest of the NHS.

He is hated by some because it was he who famously told Margaret Thatcher that it was time to go. But he was right. Her time had elapsed and it was time to leave with some semblance of dignity. She would have been rejected by the electorate and the country governed by Neil Kinnock otherwise.

But for his European enthusiasms and typical refusal to compromise, Ken might have been leader of the Conservative Party. Many of us wanted him as leader despite it. Now he will fall into the category of one of the finest leaders who never was. He could be infuriating, he could be pig-headed, but he was invariably honest and open. For some that was his greatest sin. Still, for those of us outside the Westminster bubble it remains the reason we regret his ministerial career coming to an end and him never quite reaching the top.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Extra Motivation for England?

As I wrote in my previous post, this was a World Cup which showed how serially poor are England's performances. It isn't that we lack technical skill, lots of other teams do too. This was not a World Cup blessed with a surfeit of extraordinary talent. But it showed the benefits of organisation and tactical nous. We lack that too.

Perhaps we need greater motivation, although you would have thought that the baby Bentleys and the flat screen television strewn houses would be sufficient. But look what you get when you bestride the world stage boys. You get a big gold trophy and your arm around Rihanna. Pin that picture on every dressing room wall.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Germany: World Champions

Congratulations to Germany, World Cup Champions. The best team overall has emerged as deserved winners. They won it fair and square by being well organised, full of great talent, playing pure football, scoring lots of goals. What's not to like?

This was a World Cup that, because of the quality of the product on offer and the joyous enthusiasm of the hosts, made the world sit up and take notice. My girlfriend, no football fan, loved every minute of it. America got on board. We had the likes of Costa Rica turning up and surprising everyone with their brio and tactical astuteness. It showed just how awful England were. If the likes of Costa Rica, Algeria, Iran, Ghana can turn up to this tournament and give a good account of themselves why is it that our own gilded stars serially fail? Why is it that Germany serially succeed and do so with such assurance and panache?

But let us not dwell on that. The only real sadness is that this fantastic tournament has come to an end. There will be arguments from some that the quality of football was better say in 1970 or 1998, but the quality has been high and the entertainment value as high as that statue of Christ we have seen so often this last month. Added to the overall atmosphere makes this for my money the best World Cup ever. Quite how the dour and drab Russian bid competes with this is hard to say. But nobody will be looking forward to it the way they were Brazil. This was football as a party. Okay, it's a bit of a Brazilian cliche, but that's because it has an element of truth. Russia will be a reminder of the corrupt process that was dominating the headlines before we all got distracted by the football.

But don't worry, Mr Blatter, we haven't forgotten. Football has had its party and what a party it has been. But that is despite Fifa rather than because of it. It is thanks to Brazil and its people and thanks to the footballing nations who came, competed and played the game in the true spirit of the game, with one or two very infamous exceptions we need not dwell on here. What a pity that that spirit is so often stolen by the panjandrums and crooks who ride its bandwagon. We must wrest it back from them. Tournaments like this are too wonderful to be ruled over by Sepp Blatter and his crooked cronies.


Sunday Funnies


Friday, 11 July 2014

This Latest Moral Outrage Over Privacy

Another day, another great moral panic. First we had the great 'please think of the children' turmoil over all of those paedophiles consorting and conspiring and covering each others backs. This was based on zero evidence, lots of rumour and innuendo and little else other than the explosive ability of any mention of paedophilia to create turmoil and pitch fork wielding mobs. Suddenly that famous Brass Eye programme that itself created moral panic looked like a documentary. Now we have endless inquiries being set up to investigate what has been going on. This in turn has created moral panic because a member of the establishment is investigating the establishment. Maybe we should call in the UN. Or I could do it. I studied law but didn't become a lawyer. I'm pretty sure I am unsullied by establishment connections more's the pity. I would require a knighthood at the end of it though.

And now we have a new moral panic over data protection and privacy. This comes on the back of an ECJ ruling which said that it was unlawful for internet and mobile phone companies to be compelled by the state to keep data about our calls, e-mails and what websites we have been looking at. This is the same ECJ that recently ruled, ludicrously, that we have a right to be forgotten and that the likes of Google must comply with requests to make certain web pages detailing people's mistakes, misdemeanours and past unsearchable. The pages themselves can still exist, but search engines won't find them. They will do the digital equivalent of looking the other way. That is censorship. The pages in question can be entirely factual and fair but, because someone does not wish their past to be remembered they have the right to impose amnesia on the world. The internet is one of the great levellers of the technological age, or at least it was until the lawyers got to work on it.

Yet there was no moral panic about that, no sense of outrage. People are confused about privacy. It's very similar to the whole moral outrage over the antics of certain tabloid newspapers. Yet what those newspapers were doing was illegal. The perpetrators are now behind bars. The law has worked. That still didn't stop people calling for new draconian laws, new systems, new state sponsored overseers. The difference was that these calls were coming from people who professed themselves liberal and progressive. They apparently saw no contradiction.

Companies are required to keep data about our calls and internet use. They do so for a period of 12 months. The ECJ, in its infinite wisdom, said this was illegal - I would love someone to explain to me why the hell this is something that should have anything to do with the ECJ. Now the government is bringing in an emergency law which will address that court's concerns and maintain a system that has been in place for a while anyway. That is not a snooper's charter. It does not mean you have a spy looking over your shoulder. It is a tool for use by the police and security services which enables them to convict criminals after they have committed a crime. It does not allow anyone to listen in to calls. That has always and will still require a warrant. This is a collection of data, a collection of data that, in 99.9% of cases, will be kept on servers and maintained for a period of time before then being deleted without anyone ever having laid eyes on it.

There is a fine balance required to achieve security without endangering our civil liberties. Perhaps all of this fine weather has gone to our heads. It seems obvious that this latest attempt to strike that balance is entirely proportionate and reasonable, and though we need to keep an eye on the detail with regard to transparency that is the case with most legislation, particularly that concerned with the criminal law. Nothing is going to change as a consequence of this new Bill being rushed through parliament. And it is time-limited meaning that it will have to be debated and renewed early in the next parliament. It's another moral panic over nothing. Perhaps we all need a holiday.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Striking a Blow for ?

Today's strikes taking place across our gilded public sector are pointless. They have been called purely as a kind of tribute to the glory days of the unions, days that Len McCluskey would like to see restored if Labour win the next election. There would be a department dedicated to the unions. Maybe the BBC would be required to recreate the post of industrial relations editor. These strikes today are like the Monty Python reunion: Nobody thinks it's a very good idea, but the old reprobates are determined to have one last hurrah, kidding themselves that it will be just like the good old days. Just like those old Monty Python shows, our memories are fooling us. It was nothing like as good as some like to remember.

No, say the unions bosses, those were the days. Those were the days of demands for 25% pay rises, of litter on the streets, of bodies unburied, of songs in what we used to call the hit parade telling of how we won't get him cos he's part of the union. Those were the days when they could call a strike on a whim and cause misery and untold damage to the British economy based on selfishness dressed up as working class solidarity.

Some of those on strike today will be withdrawing their labour based on a vote that took place two or even four years ago. Such votes, as currently legislated for, allow rolling strikes according to the whim and petty resentments of the union leaders like wise Uncle Len and Christine Blower of the NUT. Ask those on strike what it is they are actually striking about and they will mumble something incoherent about austerity, a lack of pay rises, reforms and Michael Gove. In other words they are using their undemocratic strike to protest about a democratically elected government. How dare we be governed by Tories.

And austerity? This country, despite the very mild cuts and pay restraint imposed by the government, is still borrowing £100 billion a year. That is a peculiar kind of austerity, even if you are as other worldly as the union bosses. When the money runs out we all have to tighten our belts. The reason the money ran out is because the last Labour government spent like a lottery winner given six months to live.

And yet, despite the austerity about which the unions are protesting, polls done by the BBC, and to the intense surprise of that lefty dominated organisation, showed that people haven't really noticed any difference in provision of services. We are getting more or at least the same for a little less. Who would have thought? Well not the unions bosses and certainly not the BBC. They buried the survey as though it was bad news. Well, to them it was.

Early signs are that once again the union bosses are going to be disappointed by the people for whom they claim to speak. There is not going to be some great uprising, no revolution against the Tories. The turnout of the strike is patchy at best and most services will carry on as usual. The strikes were only supported by a hardcore of lefty activists with their juvenile dreams of revolution and Scargill style action. The most that will happen is that some but by no means all schools will close and a few people reliant on public sector services will be even more disappointed and frustrated than usual.

Typically, however, the Labour Party, rather than side with the public they are supposed to represent, or the millions of trade union members who have chosen to carry on working because this strike is pointless, are siding with the unions, or at least trying to say as little as possible about all of this. How do they feel about the fact that a strike can be called based on a two years old vote in which turnout was 22%? We don't know. Uncle Len would not be pleased if they voiced any criticism.

The noble souls who work in the public sector do so for better than average pay, better pensions, in more secure jobs. At the height of the depression caused by Labour's spending and borrowing spree, those in the private sector were voluntarily working for lower wages, doing fewer hours so as to avoid redundancies for them and their fellow workers. That is proper worker solidarity, proper collectivism. The public sector unions don't recognise that. It seems that many of their members do.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

PMQs 9th July 2014 - The Second Bite Edition

In a clear sign that things at Westminster are winding down ready for the recess in a couple of weeks' time, the great story in politics is of what might or might not have happened in the corridors and broom cupboards of power in relation to sexual abuse 30 years ago. Was there a conspiracy? Was there at least a conspiracy of cover-up and and silence? Certainly Westminster is not immune to the phenomenon of wandering hands and unwelcome advances, and presumably was even less immune to it in those distant days when such things were not regarded as they are now. But was there more to it? Was it known about and tolerated, or even used as a way of keeping errant MPs in check. The top bods at the BBC almost certainly knew about Jimmy Savile. In the febrile, gossipy world of Westminster, people must have known about the antics of Cyril Smith and various others as yet unnamed.

Accusations of cover-ups and conspiracies have been boosted by the revelation that the Home Office was handed various files about all of this and then lost them. There was us thinking that the one thing our Civil Service is good at is keeping reams and reams of files about anything and everything. It does tend however to lose inconvenient files down the Whitehall equivalent of the back of the sofa. Perhaps that's why sofa government was invented. Senior civil servant Mark Sedwill appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee and did not convince. His interlocutors kept their own notes rather than trust the department to do so.

And speaking of under performing public servants, tens of thousands of them are going to go on strike tomorrow. It's not really clear why. It seems to be something to do with the fact there are Tories in government and that they keep changing and reforming things. Oh and they are keen on performance related pay and people being promoted because they are good at there jobs and not because of time served. This is clearly an outrage. The same unions, earlier this parliament, used to march about austerity. Unfortunately that austerity failed to materialise in any form that anyone really noticed except by trimming back their pay and pensions. But, since those remain more generous than those available elsewhere this is hardly likely to win public sympathy. Nevertheless they are going on strike tomorrow and seem very angry about something. They are doing this for 'the people' they claim. The people would rather they didn't, but then that's why the people are seldom consulted and don't bother voting even when they are. Best to trust to the innate good sense and finger on the pulse credentials of the likes of Len £140k McCluskey, and Little Owen Jones who wrote the other day of how democratic and essential the unions are. They are so essential they mean to make Labour, to whom they are paying millions, to make them more essential, compulsorily so. The people demand it you know.

And speaking of the demands of the people, Hattie Harperson thinks that she should have been made deputy prime minister by Gordon Brown and that she only didn't, having been elected deputy leader of her party, because she is a woman. This tends to be the way with Hattie. Whenever something she regards as wrong, disobliging or plain evil occurs it is also down to gender. It cannot possibly be because people regard her as a PC bimbo whose current elevated status is an accident. Much like her leader. This blog seldom defends or is even nice about the worst prime minister of the last 100 years, but doubts that he is sexist. Indeed his decision not to give Hattie the pointless title of Deputy PM may be the best one he ever made. I wonder how long it took him and how many mobile phones died in the process. Oh, and in passing and given the new security restrictions, will Gordon's penchant for throwing mobile telephony devices mean he will never be allowed into the US again?

Last week this session was dominated by the NHS, although this was largely to do with the fact that Labour couldn't think of anything else to talk about - too many subjects being taboo on account of the lack of a crisis. Labour like to talk about crises. Last week, even though they were on a week of talking about the economy (no, they were really, you probably weren't paying enough attention) Wallace talked about the NHS instead. Dave repelled him and there was a statistics duel. So what would Wallace talk about this week? The crisis in Brazilian football?

Dave started the session by congratulating the French. Oh and Yorkshire. The French brought their bike race to these shores and Yorkshire turned out in the sunshine to watch. It all went well, which everyone thought was splendid. They also raced in the south, but platitudinous remarks are deemed unnecessary about the south. The north is full of lovely people and politicians like to say so, often. Oddly Dave did not congratulate Lewis Hamilton for winning the British Grand Prix, which was similarly well organised and attended. It's in the midlands, which is nearly the north. Fortunately normal service was resumed at Wimbledon and so no mention was necessary.

Wallace started this week with one of those consensus politics questions and answer sessions in which he asks if the PM agrees with him, the PM duly does so and he gets to use up 3 questions. It was about the child abuse scandal and the various inquiries set up by the government, not because they are strictly necessary but because it is a toxic subject and we are ten months from an election. Thus we had three questions in which Dave was asked: isn't child abuse awful, shouldn't we leave no stone unturned in finding out what happened and isn't it all awful. There was general agreement about how awful it was, how much inquiries are needed, that they should be given whatever powers are necessary and that we need a panel to coordinate all of the inquiries because it is all so awful.

Then Wallace returned to the NHS. He did so, not because he couldn't stretch out his non questions about child abuse, not because he was damned if he could think of anything else to talk about but because, well just because. There then followed a further exchange of statistics in which each accused the other of being wrong. Dave did seem at this point to illustrate that waiting times were indeed going down. Wallace accused him of ignoring the fact that waiting times in A&E are up. Dave ignored this because it is true. What he should actually have pointed out is that such waiting times are meaningless and that targets only create perverse situations in which patients end up being admitted to hospital so that they don't breach waiting times targets. Yes, waiting times in A&E are irritating but they are a consequence of a service that has peaks and troughs but generally copes admirably, especially since they are treating more people overall. Most of the time, it should be noted, hospitals also meet the four hour target.

And then Dave delivered his coup de grace. At the time of the Staffordshire scandal the government made little of the fact that people had died and left to suffer under Labour despite the extra billions. They have made up for it since and mention it nearly as often as Wales. The PM attacked the Labour Health Secretary of the time, Andy Burnham. He attacked Labour's two faced approach to a pay cap for NHS staff so that money can be directed to care. Labour won't support tomorrow's strike, but neither will they condemn it. Was Wallace up to the job of PM said the current PM? No. It was a nice sign off, you could tell by the pained look on Wallace's face who had failed once again. Perhaps he should pay a visit to the local A&E. I can tell him, it's excellent.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Scotland the Brave - Sartorial Independence.

This is the official costume of the Scottish Commonwealth Games team. I'm almost tempted to say nothing more.

But I will. Now I am by no means a connoisseur of fashion. I eschew the current trend for beards amongst some men. I have never once allowed my jeans to slide down revealing my underwear except when I have neglected to wear a belt. I rage against things that are all the rage. If things are in vogue I raise a quizzical eyebrow and chuckle softly to myself at people's gullibility.

But this has nothing to do with fashion. This is a statement. This is a statement of extreme neurosis and an ingrained inferiority complex dressed up as national pride. It's the equivalent of the English bedecking ourselves in red roses or the Welsh in leeks. If the French were to take part in these games they would come on bicycles with onions around their necks and berets topping off the ensemble.

Quite what the blue part of this particularly confused outfit is meant to signify is hard to discern. Is it an attempt to relaunch C & A? They say fashion goes in circles, so presumably this is meant as an early attempt to bring back flares and nylon.

The Scottish government is very proud of its Commonwealth Games. It is meant, in the same way as the 2012 Olympics, to stir their nation's pride and make them all vote for Alex and his peculiar mix of nationalism, socialism, lies and delusions mixed up with good old fashioned bigotry. And perhaps this is why they have created this bizarre mix of styles. Tartan (invented by the English) and 1970s fashions from the glory days when socialism was last allowed to ruin the country. This is actually a very clever pictorial summary of where the SNP want to take Scotland if it votes for independence.

And the Commonwealth Games is also a nice metaphor for the great independence vote. We from south of the border don't really care about either. While the Games is taking place we may occasionally catch a moment or two, but only if there is nothing else to do. Similarly if Scotland votes for independence we will wake up the next morning, see the reports, say 'that's a shame' and then make a cup of tea. Nice symbolism.